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Environmental stress examined

Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Environmental stress examined

Three Massey University staff will present their research on how humans (and godwits) cope with extreme environmental conditions over the next two weeks.

The talks on environmental ergonomics – the study of how people react to environmental extremes such as heat, cold pressure and altitude – are being held in Dunedin and Queenstown.

School of Sport and Exercise senior lecturer Dr Toby Mündel is currently studying how heat affects people when they exercise. He has been invited to give a presentation on this at the Moving in Extreme Environments symposium in Dunedin next week. The symposium brings together world-leading researchers from the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Israel, Sweden, France, Denmark and the United States but will have a distinctly New Zealand theme.

He has been assessing the performance of runners at the Manawatu Striders Sevens Series run and walk during the recent hot weather and comparing the data with that collected during ‘normal’ conditions.

He says while Palmerston North might seem an odd choice as a place to study heat stress, it is in fact the perfect spot.

“In the southern hemisphere, and particularly New Zealand, the sun is a lot stronger because we are actually closer to the sun during our summer than those in the northern hemisphere are during theirs,” he says. “The thinner ozone layer here also makes our sun stronger, meaning a temperature of 25 degrees celsius here can often feel like 35 degrees celsius does at the equivalent latitude in the northern hemisphere.”

Dr Mündel says people exercising tend to just slow down when they are hot, that way their performance suffers but they keep safe from heat illness such as heat exhaustion and the more serious heat stroke. These results will be the first to document whether heat illness occurs in our active population and to what extent. Perhaps more importantly, it moves research away from the laboratory and into a real-world setting.

Another School of Sport and Exercise researcher Dr Darryl Cochrane will talk at the International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics in Queenstown. He has carried out extensive research on vibration exercise, and will discuss how it could be beneficial as a way for astronauts to keep fit in space.

His talk, Shaken Not Stirred, will look at the potential benefits of the exercise. Vibration exercise involves a large plate that is electrically driven and moves like a seesaw. Dr Cochrane has carried out research on its benefits to elite hockey players, those with compromised health, and as a recovery agent after physical performance.

Ecologist Dr Phil Battley has carried out research on godwits – sea birds that make individual flights of over 10,000km, the longest migrating flights that we know of. Dr Battley, who was awarded a Marsden Grant to further his research last year, will also speak at the conference in Queenstown to highlight how similar and different these ultra-endurance athletes are compared to humans.

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